International Worker’s Day (May Day) is observed around the world. Though it was born in the U.S.A., the corporate media has convinced many folk in the U.S. that May Day originated in Russia.
Prior to the success of the Eight Hour Day Movement and hard-won efforts at union organizing, most workers in the US were forced to labor as long as 18 hours a day, six or seven days a week, just to make a living. A large number were recent immigrants from Europe and did not speak or read English.
On May 1st, 1886, 80,000 workers in Chicago joined a parade in support of the movement for the Eight-Hour Day.
The wealthy and powerful owners of industry seethed in anger at the sight. They made plans.
As part of a national effort to win the Eight Hour Day, workers went on strike at the McCormick Reaper Plant in Chicago. On May 3rd, police attacked and killed four strikers on the picket line there.
Someone — a person unknown to this day — set off a bomb. Police panicked and started shooting. Four workers were killed as were seven policemen, all but one from gunshot wounds.
The next day, May 4th, a rally was organized to protest the police attack and murders. The rally was held at Haymarket Square, also in Chicago. Near the end of the meeting as it began to rain and folks began to head home, nearly 200 rifle-carrying policemen attacked the dwindling crowd.
The ruling millionaire class and their henchmen in the press blamed eight labor organizers for the melee, though many of the accused were nowhere near the site that day.
Martial law was declared in many cities. Union and other radical labor leaders were hunted down, newspapers closed, homes searched without warrants. In Chicago, eight men — all labor leaders — were arrested and blamed for the death of the policemen at Haymarket Square.
During a sham trial, The Chicago Tribune offered to pay jurors if they found the men guilty. The Haymarket Eight, as they were known, were all convicted, seven sentenced to death.
Labor leaders George Engel, Adolph Fischer, Albert Parsons and August Spies were all hanged on November 11, 1887.
Louis Lingg, a member of the Haymarket Eight, also sentenced to death, died in jail the day before his comrades. Prison officials claimed he blew his head off with a dynamite cap.
After worldwide pressure, including a petition filed by Clarence Darrow, on June 1893, Gov. John Altgeld pardoned the other three accused men. He also declared that the trial against all eight labor leaders was rigged from day one.
At a meeting in Paris of the First International in July 1889, labor delegates from many parts of the world declared that May First — May Day — would be set aside in memory of the Haymarket Martyrs and to celebrate the international unity of the working class.